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‘The Last Judgment’ triptych (open) (1467-1471) by Hans Memling.

Prophecy of the Popes: Are We Reaching the End of Days?

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For thousands of years, people all over the ancient world claimed to have the powers of foresight. In 1143, The Prophecy of the Popes was created - listing the future attributes of the 112 pontiffs succeeding St. Peter. This 900-year-old prophecy predicted that Benedict XVI would be the 111th pope, therefore, if it is correct, the current Papal Conclave will bring about the end of the world.

In 1595, a Benedictine monk named Arnold de Wyon published  Lignum Vitae - in which he claimed to have “discovered The Prophecy of the Popes,” which were originally written by St. Malachy, the Archbishop of Armagh in 1143. In 1871, Abbé Cucherat, in his book The Prophecies of the Succession of the Popes, tells us that in 1139 Malachy was “summoned to Rome Pope Innocent II to receive two wool palliums for the metropolitan sees of Armagh and Cashel.”

While in Rome, Malachy is said to have experienced a “vision of future popes,” which he recorded as a sequence of cryptic phrases describing their personality traits. St. Malachy allegedly gave his manuscript to Innocent II and the document remained unknown in the Roman Archives until its discovery in 1590.

St. Malachy as depicted in a stained glass window of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Sligo, County Sligo, Ireland

St. Malachy as depicted in a stained glass window of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Sligo, County Sligo, Ireland. (Andreas F. Borchert/CC BY SA 3.0)

Examining the Papal Prophecy

The first pope listed after St. Peter was Ex caſtro Tiberis, who is noted as having lived in a “castle on the Tiber.” Regarding the final Pope, de Wyon claimed that Malachy wrote an apocalyptic statement which translates from Latin as:

“In the extreme persecution of the Holy Roman Church, there will sit. [sic] Peter the Roman, who will nourish the sheep in many tribulations; when they are finished, the city of seven hills will be destroyed, and the dreadful judge will judge his people. The end.”

Front (Public Domain) and final (Public Domain) pages of the prophecies in Lignum Vitæ (1595).

Front (Public Domain) and final (Public Domain) pages of the prophecies in Lignum Vitæ (1595).

When the text was discovered in 1595 it caused great intrigue and carried an air of legitimacy because so many of Malachy’s descriptions matched those of previous Popes. To many, the resignation of Benedict XVI in 2013 indicated the beginning of the End of Days – also as prophesied.

However, not a shred of tangible evidence exists to associate Malachy with the prophecy, and the “original document” that de Wyon claimed to have “found” in the Vatican Secret Archives has never been seen by anyone else, ever. Soon after its discovery, many Catholic scholars deemed it as a contemporary forgery, however many others have continued to believe in the document’s authenticity.

The Vatican Secret Archives is the central repository in the Vatican City for all acts promulgated by the Holy See.

The Vatican Secret Archives is the central repository in the Vatican City for all acts promulgated by the Holy See. (Vatican Television Center/CC BY 3.0)

Skeptics argue that historically when people had prophetic visions they told a lot of people, but Malachy apparently didn’t mention his vision to a soul, nor did his biographer, St. Bernard of Clairvaux; who documented several of Malachy’s other alleged miracles. And, depending on how you interpret the prophecy, Benedict XVI is not the 111th pope! Ten antipopes are listed among the “112 Popes” - so it is argued that Benedict XVI was the 101st pope.

Benedict XVI in St Peter's Basilica, on May 15th, 2005.

Benedict XVI in St Peter's Basilica, on May 15th, 2005. (Dnalor 01/CC BY SA 3.0)

Proving the Prophecy as a Forgery

Among the historians who maintained that the prophecies were a late 16th‑century forgery, Spanish monk and scholar Benito Jerónimo Feijóo y Montenegro wrote Teatro Crítico Universal between 1724–1739. In an entry entitled ‘Purported prophecies’ he observed a “high level of accuracy in the descriptions of the popes until the date they were published” … then, a “high level of inaccuracy after the publication date.” Friar Benito Jerónimo Feijóo y Montenegro was a Spanish monk and scholar who led the Age of Enlightenment in Spain and debunked myths and superstitions. This observation convinced him the prophecy was “created just before its publication.”

Portrait of Benito Jerónimo Feijóo y Montenegro.

Portrait of Benito Jerónimo Feijóo y Montenegro. (Public Domain)

Having established that the prophecy was most probably a hoax, why were the prophecies created in the first place? A theory was forward by a 17th-century French priest Louis Moréri in his encyclopedia Le Grand Dictionnaire historique which suggested “supporters of Cardinal Girolamo Simoncelli created them in a bid to support his bid to become pope in the 1590s." His evidence was in that the prophecies predicted the pope that would follow Urban VII was "Ex antiquitate Urbis" ("from the old city"), and Simoncelli was from Orvieto, which in Latin is Urbevetanum “old city” (Miller, 1981).

Writing extensively about the prophecy being a forgery, M. J. O'Brien, a Catholic priest who authored an 1880 monograph on the prophecies said: “These prophecies have served no purpose. They are absolutely meaningless. The Latin is bad. It is impossible to attribute such absurd triflings ... to any holy source. Those who have written in defence of the prophecy have brought forward scarcely an argument in their favour. Their attempts at explaining the prophecies after 1590 are, I say with all respect, the sorriest trifling” (O’Brien, 1880).

What Does the Hoaxed Prophecy Say of Today and Tomorrow?

If the list of descriptions is matched directly to a list of historic popes since its publication, Benedict XVI (2005–13) corresponds to the second last noted pope, described as “Gloria olivae” (the glory of the olive). And the final prophecy predicts the Apocalypse: “In the final persecution of the Holy Roman Church, there will sit Peter the Roman [as bishop], who will pasture his sheep in many tribulations, and when these things are finished, the city of seven hills [i.e. Rome] will be destroyed, and the dreadful judge will judge his people. The End.”

Pope Francis was not born Peter - his name was Jorge Mario Bergoglio - and he is showing no signs of preparing to bring about the end of the world. Well, I hope he isn’t! 

Pope Francis.

Pope Francis. (Jeffrey Bruno/CC BY SA 2.0)

Top Image: ‘The Last Judgment’ triptych (open) (1467-1471) by Hans Memling. Source: Public Domain

By Ashley Cowie


Catholic Encyclopedia 1913,

Feijóo y Montenegro 1724-1739, p. 129.

Arnold Miller, “Louis Moréri’s Grand Dictionnaire historique,” In Notable Encyclopedias of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries: Nine Predecessors of the Encyclopédie, ed. Frank A. Kafker (Oxford: Voltaire Foundation, 1981), 13-52.

O'Brien 1880, p. 110.



Barry Sears's picture

Stories run through many cultures. There are two different aspects to these end time stories. The first being a natural event that may cause destruction for our planet of which all is over or time then heals the damage. As I have read several of the global stories also I believe that this end is actually a process that is cyclic and refers to the process of our planets. This would be a life-cycle motion a more organic cycle of which our plants evolve. When considering planetary motion only a few options appear but for me only one option is logical when considering their motion over considerable periods of time. Various planetary motion models are suggested and I relate to C. Johan Masreliez theory on cosmic drag.
This model suggest our planets evolve moving towards the sun. They would then pass through the goldilocks zone in an organic motion and this motion supports our evolutionary history. More days are recorded in fossil records per year and we are also warming. I understand Mars has entered the goldilocks zone, we have passed the mid water zone and Venus has passed through and is now dry. This is an organic movement and is defined by a planetary manvantara. Life on Earth can then be divided up into whatever categories we choose. This then introduces us to the second end time aspect to the ancient stories and that is related to human behaviour and how we decide to behave and react. Stories are stories, we choose fighting or exploring or dancing, we choose war or loving or helping or sailing..... These are separate though from natural events and cycles.

Great post.

But it is not true that all "prophets" and "mystics" have a history of coming forward.

Seers in Catholic tradition have a history of being persecuted, silenced, and having their own words and prophecies - which make clerics of the church look bad - rewritten after their death.

Think Joan of Arc, burnt at the stake. I've always wondered if the (suspiciously fraudulent?) "fake Pope Joan prophecy" was linked to a real prophecy - regarding a woman destined to expose and overthrow ancient, misogynist secrets.

Also, think of the children of Fatima in the early 1900's, who were threatened to be boiled in hot oil by a priest. Then, even after Our Lady of Fatima is *declared authentic", the secret* is not released to the public - even when the last surviving seer said it should be.

When it finally *is*, it is curiously - bland. I mean if this was all it was, why would it have shocked and terrified the children?

Interestingly, Fatima had in common with several preceding approved prophecies that the mother of God appeared to little children, often impoverished and even - abuse victims themselves (think La Salette).

And also interestingly, masons held that Our Lady of Fatima was really the Lady in revelation, who would expose the corruption of the church hierarchy.

Many modern day contemplatives believe the real Fatima prophecy had to do with the loss of office of most priests and bishops (and male popes?) due to connection with child abuse. In other words - that it was the visible church that was a fraud.

Your post makes me think perhaps Malachi was not a fraud, but he suffered the same revision and white washing of words that most Catholic mystics have undergone.

The cryptic nature of messages received via clairaudient locutions lends itself well to many erroneous self interpreting, let alone clerical authority misinterpreting, rewrites.

I was recently reading the words "of Jesus" through "St Faustina" in "Signs and Wonders" magazine (a magazine of which the title gives way to whom it is targeted).

The article was written by a very anti freemasonic, traditional prelate, Bishop Athanasius Schneider. I noticed that Faustina's messages "from Christ" must have been rewritten to scapegoat masons for the clerical corruption at the time, or else Christ told her things which one can prove are historically untrue about masons. When I tried to comment on these historical inaccuracies on a social media forum with regard to the good reverend, it was my remarks and questions to Arhanasius that were removed.

ashley cowie's picture


Ashley is a Scottish historian, author, and documentary filmmaker presenting original perspectives on historical problems in accessible and exciting ways.

He was raised in Wick, a small fishing village in the county of Caithness on the north east coast of... Read More

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